Who is the most fan-friendly celebrity

The AFL sees itself as the most fan-friendly league in the world - those responsible do a lot to meet the standards they have set themselves

Imagine if the audience were invited onto the pitch in the Munich arena after every game. Then Oliver Kahn, Lukas Podolski and Bastian Schweinsteiger appear and sign jerseys for half an hour and pose for photos.

This is part of everyday life in the Arena Football League (AFL). Even after a defeat, the Tampa Bay Storm players bravely trudge back onto the field. They are obliged to do public relations work.

The AFL offers viewers a radically different form of football. The 19 teams spread across the country play in halls on a field that is only half the size, only eight instead of eleven players per team, but it's still tight. The AFL version is faster and full of action. Many rules have been changed for this purpose. Defense is only a minor matter. “We rebuilt the game for high scores,” says AFL's Charlie Taylor. Three times as many points are scored as in NFL football. Opinions differ as to whether this is still football. In contrast to the tactical NFL, the AFL looks more like backyard football with world-class athletes.

The entrance fees are comparatively moderate, and the entertainment program is another selling point. The timeouts and breaks are filled with spectator games, rock music is constantly roaring. Every Tampa Bay Storm touchdown is celebrated by a small indoor fireworks display. The primary role of the replacement quarterbacks appears to be to throw footballs into the audience - 50 to 60 of the play equipment per match.

The target group are mainly families, with a noticeably large number of children among the spectators, whose attention span trained in computer games is perfectly served by AFL football. In a short interruption, AFL boss David Baker informed the audience via video that they were “the best fans in the world” and that they were attending a game in the “most fan-friendly league in the world”.

His concept is successful. Since Baker took over the leadership of the league in 1996, it has grown from 14 to 19 teams and the value of individual franchises to allegedly $ 20 million. The AFL has established itself after 20 years and has an average attendance of more than 12,000. Celebrities like rock singer Jon Bon Jovi or country star Tim McGraw have acquired teams. The sports channel ESPN has been on board since this season and broadcasts regularly. There are mainly players on the field who just missed the leap into the NFL. An entire team earns roughly the same as the average NFL professional, and the league pays for room and board.

THOMAS WINKLER